Packaging Probe
Question pénétrante sur l'emballage


photo: NJ Meadowlands Commission

The current efforts to reduce waste seem to focus on the individual to reduce, reuse, recycle, compost; but how able are we to reduce our waste when companies are still using huge amounts of excess packaging? Are consumers creating so much waste because we don't know any better or are we creating so much waste because the producers refuse to use less packaging?

Les efforts courants afin de réduire les déchets semblent être axés sur l'individu pour réduire, recycler et composter ; cependant, comment pouvons-nous réduire nos déchets lorsque les compagnies continuent à utiliser de gros montants d'emballage excessifs ?  Est-ce que les consommateurs créent tellement de déchets parce qu'ils ne savent pas mieux ou bien est qu'ils créent tellement de déchets parce que les producteurs refusent d'utiliser moins d'emballage ?

Industrial Design
University of Alberta
Edmonton, AB
January 18, 2007
Material itself cannot make a package sustainable, because there is certainly no such thing as a sustainable material. Sustainability is what we do with the materials we choose. The liberation of sustainable design will mean changing the way we compose and conceive of our material world piece by piece. And designers my be able to come up with great solutions for reduced packaging / material / service system or whatever the issue is; however they alone can not solve the ecological problem. Business people decide what gets made, governments make rules and the global market rolls on. And recycling used food packaging would never work because simply the food would contaminate the material thus making it non-recyclable. And if you were to even separate the clean packages from the contaminated ones, it would still require tons and tons of available material required to even consider it being worth being recycled. Recycling costs money, and it is not cheap to do - in fact recycling only puts a tiny dent in the millions of tons of waste that is still being produced everyday. The real issue here is, why not make packages, products and services all sustainable? like in nature - everything in nature biodegrades into the use of something else and nothing is wasted! There is a habit to design for obsolescence using century old manufacturing technologies. Talking to companies and complaining will have little or no impact in the long run, what we need is a new industrial revolution and change the way we live and produce goods and services.
Erdwin Hueniken
Fenwick, Ontario
January 4, 2007
I have just read all the comments, and I agree with most of what has been said. But what I was hoping to find wasn't there - an organization, which is actively involved in educating consumers, leading them, telling them about the real costs of these wasteful practices, and giving them practical suggestions how to reduce and how to combat the industries. Yes, we who read the comments on this site can and do practise the 3 R's, returning of packages to the manufacturers, shopping with our own shopping bags, buying yogurt in larger containers, refuse to purchase heavily packaged goods etc. - but what about the millions of consumers who are also perhaps concerned but follow the path of convenience and least resistance? Politicians and CEO's do not hear individuals very well, but they pay attention to a large organized group. If anyone can help me to find a group of concerned citizens, let me know.
adhana Lal
Institute of Genomics and Integrative Biology (CSIR),
Delhi-7, India
September 09, 2005
This is a very good site. But I think the serious problem related to toxic gases generated due to generation of wastes in our society create severe problem in our surroundings. Which ultimate cause the serious health problem. Thus article should focus on developed technology for treatment of biological wastes like anaerobic digestion process. This method can provide the solution of waste management and generation of biofuels.
Carissa, Alberta
April 20, 2005
I think that there should be restrictions on how much packaging companies are allowed to use. And that's the bottom line.
Benjamin Richards
May 14, 2003
Manufactures and sales companies use the packaging to attract you to there product. But the materials which are been used are not biodegradable and in many cases contain toxins. These include plastic of all kind. It is up to the manufacturers to use materials that are not toxic and biodegradable. So that composting and disposal dose not cause harm to the environment. Or recyclable, a manufacture could save a large amount of money and natural resources by reusing packaging.
Jinny Greaves,
PEI Climate Change
Hub Assistant
Jan 28, 2003
I think consumers are creating so much waste because we don’t know any better. Consumers need to be responsible for what they buy. I believe the reason products are so packaged is because they sell better that way. Think about how yogurt is sold - You can buy a large tub, and when packing your lunch for work, take a serving size amount from the tub and put it into a separate Tupperware dish. More conveniently, you can buy the six-service-size pack of yogurt where each service is already pre-packed for you. You can just tear a yogurt from the bunch and go. The issue of reducing waste all comes down to reducing convenience. People buy the pre-packaged, the pre-cooked, and the pre-cut products because it saves them time in their all ready busy lives. Unfortunately the cost of convenience seems to be added waste. I don’t think we can blame the producers for the waste problem. I believe consumers need to learn to respect the earth and their bodies and buy organically from stores that offer bulk sections (bins full of rice, pasta, grains, etc - you use your own bag). If more consumers bought their products from bulk sections, these sections would grow - It is the economic science of supply and demand.
Madeleine Polchies
First Nation

Jan 27, 2003
I came across your site as I was thinking about a change of career, my true passion has always been in close relation to our Sacred Mother Earth, and all of our Relations. You are very inspiring. I feel people, most people walking on our Sacred Mother Earth do not understand when we say "all my Relations". There is a need to educate on the impact of our consuming habits. How much of Mother Earth's Resources do we consume in America in comparison to India? When we say consume resources, do we understand the total impact, not to say imprint of each of our life walk. What kind of legacy do we leave our children with? With education we can learn, we can heal, we can change. I believe we can do it.
Eugene Conway
Campaign for Progressive Waste Management, Conception Harbour
Jan 24, 2003
Hi. At present all medical waste from Newfoundland is shipped to New Brunswick for incineration. However a proposal is now before our government to build our own incinerator.  I would like to hear from people familiar with the New Brunswick incinerator, and how people living near the facility feel about it. 

Ken Donnelly
Jan 24, 2003

The Westmorland-Albert waste management system is entirely voluntary. That 
means that residents or businesses that set their garbage out can choose to 
separate it into wet and dry or simply put it out in garbage bags and it will still be collected. I would suggest three possible approaches.
1. Petition the Westmorland-Albert Solid Waste Commission to make their 
separation program mandatory for all residents and businesses (and schools, 
hospitals and everone else).
2. Petition McDonalds to do the right thing by separating their waste.
3. Don't eat at McDonalds until they do the right thing. Even then, don't eat there anyway.

André Goguen,
Moncton NB
Jan 23, 2003
There is no way that you will be able to stop companies from using packaging as a way to incite interest in their products. It is a fact of life in commerce. However, what SHOULD be done is to ensure that those packages are 1)Recyclable 2)Minimized (one sealed box, and not a box with shrink wrap and a plastic holder inside with plastic twist ties tying it to the holder etc...).
I work in the graphic design/advertising industry. Packaging and advertising are vital part of how companies sell their products. What they don't seem to realize is that you can turn sound environmental packaging policies into a selling point. Buy our products because we use less packaging. On a final note, those of you who say that by not purchasing overpackaged products are sending a message to companies, you are not. You have to go one step further. You need to TELL those companies that you do not buy their product because it is overpackaged. No sales mean no money, and that is what will get a corporation to get moving. And the only way for them to know why products aren't being sold is for them to hear it from customers.

Tamra Farrow
Jan 23, 2003
Where I live in New Brunswick we are on the wet and dry system of garbage disposal (blue and green bags) and there is a "garbage police force" (my term for them) that comes around from time to time that leaves a note if you are not disposing of your garbage properly. I believe in the recycle system and want to make it work and do my bit in many ways. I also live near a fast food outlet, MacDonalds, and have seen the garbage truck pick up their garbage and I see that it is not separated. Who gives MacDonalds the right to do this. I think they
should be made to comply. These fast food places must produce tons of waste. What can be done?

Tamara Lorincz
Halifax, NS
Jan 26, 2003
To get serious about reducing waste in Canada, we need to consider true Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) initiatives. In Sweden and Germany, for example, companies are responsible for taking back their packaging and products. Thus, the financial and administrative burden is properly placed on corporations and not on municipalities to handle the waste. As companies become responsible for the full life cycle and costs of their products, EPR forces them to design their products and packaging in an environmentally responsible manner.
British Columbia is moving in this direction and will be implementing an aggressive EPR program and piece of legislation (check out: For more information about EPR, in general, please read Thomas Lindhqvist's Extended Producer Responsibility in Cleaner Production (Doctoral Dissertation, The International Institute for Industrial Environmental Economics, Lund University 2000). Lindhqvist is the founder of EPR back in 1990.

Maryse Mahy
Jan 16, 2003
Both individuals and producers should change their attitudes. Also, if we make an effort to purchase products that are less packaged, that may send a message to the producers. And cashiers used to stare at me as if I was a Martian when I said I did not need any bags (using my own bag), but now they don't seem to do that as much... More people are using their own bags ???
Jessica Squires
Jan 15, 2003
I think the environmental movement has missed the boat by emphasizing individual actions and lifestyle changes over criticizing the system which creates the problems in the first place.
David Boehm
Truro, NS
Jan 14, 2003
Interesting that you should ask. I've been beside myself about this topic lately since it seems such an obvious and ubiquitous problem that no one seems to pay serious attention to. Now that our ecological conscience[s] are so fine tuned these trips to the 'waste basket' are moral crucifixions. I've lambasted Farmers Dairy for switching to a less recyclable container despite the fact that they have a stewardship agreement in place with the provincial government and are ostensibly supportive of the three Rs. I've bitched to the yogurt manufacturers and to Kraft about lousy packaging and poor labeling for recycling. But really, these are just the easy targets of my dismay. What about washer fluid that comes in a jug when it could as easily, yea, more easily be dispensed at the service station. Oil the same. I read that in Germany they have made the producers responsible for dealing with all packaging and public funds are not used for recycling purposes or disposal services. Consumers pay to have garbage removed--presumably by the bag. Talking to Farmers Dairy I was told that it was a marketing necessity to please customers who were asking for a more convenient package. I asked if they had queried surveyees whether ecological concerns played a role. Of course they hadn't. They had to do it because Baxters was going to do it... But if virtual monopolies like these provincial dairies are going to use this escapist reasoning what chance to do we have with the rest of producers. I do think we need some serious concerted citizen action on this one. Got to get everyone calling those 1-800 numbers and getting them on the defensive--the vibes I get when I call are real human pain in having to apologize for what they know is a commercial cop-out. Then we also need to make it a political issue in every jurisdiction from municipal to federal--since NO ONE seems to be responsible for reduction of packaging, someone--and in this case, everyone--needs to be held to account for the disaster that is burying us.
Do consumers want to be told where to smoke? Do consumers want to wear seat belts? Do consumers want to get speeding tickets? We are not consumers, we are citizens. A maggot is a consumer; human beings are more complicated and we need a more complicated set of rules and etiquette. Consumers are not going to ask for zero waste; they will need to be led there. But success with curbside recycling and composting programs indicates that people will cooperate. But before we go creating more Dr. Seussian recycling systems lets get a handle on the waste stream. Let's stop putting the toothpaste tube in a box (maybe we can even stop putting the paste in a tube). Let's dream of an order-to-deliver bulk supermarket with 100% refillable (eg. stainless steel) containers--now that's convenience! Lets crunch the numbers and let people know what the costs of this crazy system really is. 
But it should be obvious now that neither gov't nor industry is willing to take the step. They need a big push, a big shove. I feel sick taking out my garbage. Taking my smelly rice and coffee ground slop down for my worms in the basement though is always satisfying and fulfilling. Ahah, good old rot and putrefaction in my own basement. I don't need a bag for that.
Godspeed. Peace and Love. 

Harriet Reid

Jan 14, 2003
Consumers are producing so much waste because they tolerate and encourage
excessive packaging by buying the stuff.
I made a decision years ago to battle this issue with my purchasing power. I
simply DO NOT PURCHASE products that are excessively packaged. The side
benefits of this practice are truly amazing. Not only has my non-compostible
waste decreased significantly, BUT so have my household expenses, AND my
diet has improved by avoiding all those oh so easy, oh so tasty, beautifully
packaged goodies.

Matthew Little
Jan 14, 2003
Obviously a minimum amount of packaging is required for most products. These should be made from materials that can be recycled and minimized to reduce their volume. I get annoyed at the fast food industry (probably the most obvious example as people eat their food and throw the packaging on the ground). There are alternatives to the polystyrene used such as potato starch based materials - why have they not gotten more acceptance? Is it due to cost?
I used to work for a company that imported and distributed gifts and gadgets mainly in the UK but also in Europe. They only cared about sales. If the product was more visible and looked good then it sold. This meant big packaging for small and cheap items to make them look more expensive. The only reason they did not make all packaging very large was their cost of materials and (probably most importantly) the cost of shipping and storing the increased volume. Clever use of packaging was probably the better way to go but they did not realize this.

Jean Banville
14 jan
, 2003
J’ai trouvé votre site interessant. Ca vaut la peine de regarder ce que je vous envois. On en a tous assez de payer comme des con pour enrichire ceux qui en on pas de besoin et de polluer par dessus de marcher. merci
Ann Ryan, 
Jan 14, 2003
I think manufacturers use their packaging as a way of grabbing the consumers attention. They believe that large, flashy packaging equals more sales. If they could be convinced otherwise, it might go some distance to reducing the amount of product packaging.
Ross Vagnieres
Illinois, US
Jan 14, 2003
Lets close the loop. All packaging materials must be recyclable. And everyone who unwraps, directs the materials to recycling sources. Use fines to police. Magnetic labels keep track of the recycling process and fining.
Pat Provencher
Jan 13, 2003
I agree packaging is way over the top. Its 'layers' of packaging that bothers me. Unfortunately, packaging of food to some point will always be necessary. As a Graphic Artist I make part of my living from designing packaging.  
Perhaps a set of guidelines for companies involved with packaging could be put together. ie: ideas etc.

Patty Donovan
Jan 13, 2003
Take that junk mail and put it in the self-addressed stamped envelope and
mail it back to them... then maybe they would get the message that I am not
their target market.

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